Prisoners’ Rights

In addition to its recent success securing injunctive relief in the Ingles litigation that required the City to implement critical reforms to reduce assaults on inmates, the Firm routinely litigates damages actions on behalf of individuals confined in New York City jails who have been subjected to unconstitutional abuse and excessive force by correction officers. The Firm has obtained numerous damages settlements and awards on behalf of individuals who were severely injured by correction officers while confined on Rikers Island and other city jails, and who have sustained injuries as serious as perforated eardrums, spinal fractures, collapsed lungs, broken bones, eye injuries including blindness, and death.

The Firm’s practice in this area seeks to build upon the remedial impact of the injunctive relief obtained in the class action context (such as greater training of officers and use of security cameras) with the filing of individual damages actions in order to effect change and reduce violence against prisoners in the City’s jails. The Firm also has successfully settled two large strip search class actions, one for $33 million and the other for $50 million.

For the latest news on ECBA’s police misconduct work, click here.

Representative Cases:

  • Nunez v. City of New York – Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, with the Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project and Robes & Gray, represented a class of inmates at Rikers Island in a lawsuit stemming from the widespread abuse of prisoners by correction staff at the jail. In June 2015, the parties, together with the United States Department of Justice, reached an historic agreement, enforceable by court order, to comprehensively and dramatically change practices at the jail, including changes to the force officers are permitted to use, methods of reporting and tracking uses of force, and the development of an “early warning” program to flag guards whose conduct may require extra monitoring.
  • McBean v. City of New York – The Firm recently secured a $33 million settlement for 100,000 persons who were illegally strip searched upon admission to a New York City jail after being arraigned solely on misdemeanor or lesser offenses. The City also agreed to a two-year injunction that required it to implement reforms and submit to monitoring to ensure that it stopped the illegal practice of strip searching pre-trial detainees arraigned solely on misdemeanors and lesser offenses.
  • Ingles v. Toro – Together with The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project and Sullivan and Cromwell, the Firm successfully litigated a class action against the New York City Department of Corrections on behalf of inmates housed at Rikers Island. The case alleged a widespread pattern and practice of excessive force against inmates, as well as inadequate training, investigation, and discipline of officers. The City settled by agreeing to a slate of systematic reforms.
  • Griffin v. City of New York – The Firm, along with The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, obtained a settlement of $5,750,000 on behalf of the family of Bradley Ballard, the largest ever entered into by New York City for a death in custody.  Mr. Ballard was a seriously mentally ill and diabetic man who died in 2013 due to the abuse and cruelty of Department of Correction staff and the medical providers on Rikers Island.  He was illegally shut in his cell and left to decompensate without water or medication for his schizophrenia and diabetes for seven days until his death on September 11, 2013.
  • Rice v. City of New York – The Firm brought a case on behalf of three plaintiffs exposing the extraordinary practice by the New York City Department of Corrections’ employees of staging and betting on illegal fights between inmates. Our three clients were severely assaulted by corrections staff when they refused to participate in this staged “arena fighting.” After the commencement of discovery, the City entered settlement negotiations and the case was resolved on highly favorable terms for the plaintiffs.
  • Cruz v. City of New York – The Firm and Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project successfully litigated an excessive force lawsuit against the City of New York after multiple officers beat a man so badly that they broke his rib, which eventually pierced his spleen and led to massive internal bleeding. The assault and resulting injuries were life-threatening. Mr. Cruz, who was only 20 years old at the time, was forced to undergo emergency surgery to remove his spleen.
  • Belvett v. City of New York – Together with The Legal Aid Society, the Firm represented a man brutally assaulted on two occasions by New York City Department of Corrections’ guards, resulting in an orbital fracture, sprained wrist, and numerous cuts and bruises. The case ultimately settled for $350,000.
  • Miller v. City of New York – The Firm represents the family of Patrick Miller, a mentally ill man who died in 2007 in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction, after being severely beaten in a jail hospital for mentally ill individuals.
  • Along with co-counsel, the Firm represented a transgender woman who was sexually assaulted by two different employees of the New York City Department of Corrections and/or the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation on two different occasions, as corroborated by forensic evidence, despite credible complaints she and others had previously made. The case ultimately settled for $750,000.
  • Tyson v. City of New York – The Firm represented a class of 62,000 arrestees challenging the constitutionality of pre-arraignment strip-searches, and secured a $50 million settlement.
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